Standing in front of a Jewish king and queen, a Roman governor, and the prominent men of Caesarea, Paul said the reason he was on trial wasnt because he had done anything wrong, it was because of his faith. In fact, the trial was really about God. Does He or does He not raise dead people to life? He said it was this hope of eternal life that motivated the patriarchs of Israel, and it was this hope that motivated Jews in every generation to serve God zealously, day and night. Yet strangely that hope is not always matched with faith. We can long for something we dont really believe will happen. People can wrestle with the fact of their mortality, and passionately yearn to escape the grip of death, but when actually confronted with the question of whether or not they believe God will raise them from the dead, the truth is they dont. Because if they did, then why would it be so hard to believe that He has already raised someone from the dead?
Pauls logic is flawless: if we really believe God can and will raise dead people to life then why would it be so shocking to hear someone say Hes already done it; that a man has already escaped the grave, forever? When Paul comes to the end of his testimony he makes this statement,
I stand to this day testifying to small and great, stating nothing but what the prophets and Moses said was going to take place, that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles (Ac 26:22-23). When Paul spoke those words, the governor pronounced him crazy (v24), the king said he was almost persuaded (v28), and everybody got up and walked out.
Thats how they responded then, but the question before us today is how will we respond. Its not enough, says Paul, to believe there must be a God. Actually, it takes a strange form of faith to believe there isnt one. Its not enough to believe there must be a celestial land where human spirits go after they die. Nearly every culture on earth believes that. Its nearly intolerable for humans to bury our loved ones with no hope of ever seeing them again, to assume that their existence has been snuffed out like a candle. As he stood in that courtroom Paul placed in front of them the issue that is at the heart of all biblical faith: that God will physically raise the dead to life, all of them, both the good and the bad. Some may say thats crazy. Some may draw close but never commit. And some, like Paul, choose to believe, and that changes everything.
Paul on trial (Ac 25:13-26:8)
DBS (Sun, Mon, Fri, Sat) Note: vs18-19
The promised hope
When Paul uses the word hope hes talking about a very specific kind of faith. This kind of faith is focused on the great promises God has made to us about the future. And that future, as the Bible pictures it, is not vague or uncertain. In fact, in one sense, its not even a spiritual world
its very physical, it will be more intensely real than the world were living in now.
The Bible teaches that when the Son of God comes in power, all the righteous dead will be resurrected. Those who died before that moment will return to earth with Him, and those believers who are still living on the planet when He comes, will be instantly transformed into their resurrection bodies, and will rise into the air to meet Him. But that event is not the end of the world. It is only the beginning of a new era which will last for a thousand years. It will be a remarkable season in which the earth will be populated with two very different kinds of people: those who have been resurrected and are therefore immortal, and mortal people who are still living out their human life-spans, having children, and dying. During that time, which the Bible often calls the Kingdom of God (also: Messianic Kingdom, Millennium), the resurrected people will govern the mortal people, all under the authority of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who will have His throne in Jerusalem. It will be a season in which all the earth will be governed by Gods righteousness, but even though Jesus will be physically present, and the earth will be gloriously renewed, becoming amazingly peaceful and beautiful, not everyone will choose to surrender to Him in their hearts. Many will only live obediently because they are forced to do so. At the end of this thousand-year period there will be a war against Jesus
and Jesus will win.
Then, another resurrection will take place, a second resurrection. In that resurrection those who have refused to submit to God, and have not come to Him in faith seeking mercy, will physically rise and stand before the Lord to be judged based on the record of their lives. They will then enter eternity separated from Him forever. When that is complete, God will literally evaporate this present universe, and create a new one. You might say, He will resurrect the universe as well. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and they too, will be physical, solid, real places. And there will be a beautiful new city, a new Jerusalem, in which all those who have loved Him, and waited in hope to be with Him, intensely, with no separation, forever, will as Paul says, arrive at that goal (v7).
Pauls challenge (Ac 26:8)
All of this is based on one foundational truth: that God raises dead people back to life! This hope requires a faith that God really has the power to do that. And the person who really believes He can, will not stagger at the announcement of the gospel that He already has: a man who was dead for three days wasnt resuscitated, or revived for a season only to die a natural death later on, but escaped the grip of the grave forever. In Jesus this promised hope has already begun. Its been proven to be true.
For Paul himself, you might say, it wasnt even a matter of faith any longer because he had actually seen Jesus in His resurrected glory. That encounter was so real it left him blind and his eyes covered with scabs. This is what he was trying to tell them, but because they didnt believe in a God who could, they mocked at his declaration that He already had.
Paul said this hope is the goal toward which all believers are running. Its the prize which we long to attain, and no one who understands what hes talking about can disagree with him. This hope, if its real, is so wonderful nothing on earth can compare with it. Its a treasure any reasonable person would gladly pay any price to possess. And thats exactly how Jesus described it. Listen:
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Mt 13:44-46).
Paul not only believed in the resurrection but understood the price that hope required him to pay, and he gladly chose to sell all to possess it. Listen:
Revealing my heart
Nothing reveals the depth of my faith more clearly than my hope in the resurrection. When its strong, when my heart is focused on that glorious future, I find myself filled with joy, even while Im living in the midst of the troubles and sorrows of this passing age. I see everything from a new perspective, and what I see melts away depression and arms me with an urgency of purpose. I cant waste my time. I need to reach out to others and take them with me into that glorious future. I no longer pursue the things the world is pursuing, not because there is no pleasure in those things, but because Ive been promised something so much better, something that will never age or die or fade away. In Jesus Christ Ive found a lasting treasure, a pearl of great price.
As we listen to Pauls challenge to the men and women in that courtroom, asking them, Why is it considered incredible among you if God does raise the dead? His question challenges us as well. He presses us to ask ourselves three questions.
1) Do I believe God can raise the dead?
2) Do I believe God has raised the dead?
3) Do I believe God will raise the dead?
The God who can, and the God who has, is the God who will, and if I really believe that, it changes everything. Because if I say yes to those questions, I then have to ask: Am I ready to sell everything to possess that hope? If I am, then Paul says all I need to do is confess with my mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead, and I will be saved (Ro 10:9). Now, Pauls hope has become my hope.
1) If someone asked you What is heaven like? What would you say?
2) Have you had a family member or dear friend die who you knew was a true believer? How did that knowledge help you cope with your loss?
3) Hope, like faith, isnt something thats static, its strong sometimes and weak sometimes. What are you like when your hope is strong? What are you like when your hope is weak? What do you do to strengthen your hope?